Since its erection in 1856, Cockspur Island Lighthouse has been a beacon that has withstood the test of time. The lighthouse is located on an islet off the eastern tip of Cockspur Island. Cockspur Island separates the North and South channels of the Savannah River, and is the site of Fort Pulaski National Monument. The lighthouse was temporarily extinguished in 1861 as a result of the Civil War, yet it remained unharmed throughout the attack on Fort Pulaski, April 10 - 11, 1862. After minor repairs and replacement of equipment, the lighthouse was relit on April 25, 1866 and served as a lighted beacon until it was permanently extinguished in 1909. Currently, the lighthouse is used as a daymark for small craft navigation and in the interpretation of the battle on April 10 - 11, 1862.
In 1990 a project statement was complied, proposed, and noted that the lighthouse was “exhibiting signs of deterioration.” The more distinguishable signs were within the cast and wrought iron of the lantern. The iron was exfoliating, causing it to expand putting pressure on the masonry. The Fort Pulaski maintenance staff began making repairs by replacing the woodwork on all windows and doors and repainting the tower.
In 1994, a Historic Structure Assessment Report completed by Savannah College of Art and Design masters candidate Judith Collins noted:
“It has been proposed by conservation experts to remove the iron cap and treat it with electrolysis. This would be an expensive project, but necessary for any long-term stabilization. An alternative to removal of the metal lighthouse cap (lantern house) would be to scrape, brush, and paint the metal in situ. This treatment would not be sufficient for long term preservation. The metal immediately adjacent to the masonry could not be effectively stabilized by this method. The result would likely be metal exfoliation and deterioration of the brickwork. Significant and irreparable damage could occur within five years”.
The report also included recommendations to repoint and replace bricks where necessary. Managers at Fort Pulaski National Monument requested additional revenue from the National Park Service to begin this important work. Also, citizens from around the nation began sending in donations to augment these funds so that the work could get underway as soon as possible. Restoration of the remaining portions of the lighthouse would occur in two phases. Phase I included several steps as follows:
Remove all surface paint, disassemble and repair broken parts, paint and reassemble lantern. New parts were to be manufactured out of steel;
Manufacture new lantern vent to match existing vent;
Stabilize and paint existing handrails and standards on top of Cockspur Island Lighthouse;
Manufacture new steel door casing for lighthouse;
Disassemble parapet wall;
Remove metal landing for treatment and painting;
Replace landing and reassemble parapet wall; and
Reconstruct the bow on the lower NE section.
July 7, 1995 marked the beginning of Phase I. The cupola atop the beacon was removed for electrolytic reduction, air abrasive cleaning, and painting for exterior display of the Cockspur Lighthouse. Due to its complexity and oxidized conditions, preservation of the cupola would take approximately two to three years. Harsh storms during the winters of 1997 and 1999 caused a severe blow to preservation efforts. In 1997, large waves driven by seaward winds smashed into the bow on the northeast side of the lighthouse resulting in the collapse of a 10-foot long section of masonry. In addition, the entire lantern base wall collapsed leaving loose bricks strewn throughout the lighthouse tube. Then in 1999, the entire outer staircase washed away during unusually high tides before repairs could be made. In the spring of 1999, Fort Pulaski National Monument maintenance workers and historic masons with the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Maryland began the arduous task of putting the lighthouse back together. Upon completion of the restoration of the lantern cap, it was noted that there were several structural cracks. At that time it was decided to have a complete replica of the lantern cap made rather than returning the original cap to the lighthouse. The replica was manufactured by FLOTECH Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida, and set in place on Cockspur Lighthouse on May 18, 2000. The masonry repairs were completed by the National Park Service Historic Preservation Crew, along with the support of the Fort Pulaski NM Maintenance Staff in February of 1999. Once completed, preparations for Phase II could begin.
Phase II would involve preservation of Masonry Elements at Cockspur Lighthouse. Work performed included:
Reconstruct exterior staircase;
Pressure wash the exterior brickwork;
Rake and repoint deteriorated exterior brick mortar joints;
Sweep and clean the interior of lighthouse; and
Apply two coats of whitewash.
A Project Final Inspection was carried out Wednesday, May 24, 2000. John Breen, Superintendent, Fort Pulaski National Monument, attended the Final Inspection and expressed his satisfaction with the work performed and agreed the goals of the Project Agreement had indeed been met. Because of the outstanding preservation efforts accomplished, it is anticipated that this important historic resource will continue to fulfill its role in maritime navigation for many decades to come.
This story appeared in the
August 2000 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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